F.R.C. Clarke in his masterly Healey Willan: Life and Music, University of Toronto Press, 1983) explains that beginning in 1950, Willam wrote more than one hundred chorale preludes and hymn tune preludes as well as several recital pieces.
The Six Chorale Preludes for organ, Set 1, was published by Concordia in 1950. A second set was issued in the following year. They cover a considerable range of mood with their melodies taken from a diverse source of originals: Lutheran Chorales, plainchant, George Wither’s Hymns, and the Victorian musician John Goss. The prelude on Quem Pastores is the first number.
The tune “Quem Pastores,” along with the original Latin text dates from the 14th century, and was printed in the Hohenfurth Ms.,1410). It was first published in Valentin Triller’s Ein christlich Singebuch für Laien und Gelehrten, (A Christian singing book for lay people and scholars) in Breslau, 1555. A German text was provided beginning “Preis sei Gott im hochsten Throne.“ (Praise God in his Highest Throne).
Structurally, Willan’s chorale
prelude, Quem Pastores follows the basic plan where “individual phrases
of the hymn-tunes are presented unornamented and separated by interludes.” The
hymn tune appears in the tenor part, played by the left hand. The accompanying
counterpoint appears to develop from phrases of the tune. The prelude begins
and ends in F major, with few accidentals. It is written in 3/4 time and is
typically quiet in character. The tempo is Moderato quasi pastorale.
There is no doubt that this chorale
prelude is most effective during a church service as opposed to a concert organ
Peter Hardwick (British Organ Music of the Twentieth Century, Scarecrow Press, 2003, p.116) writes that Quem Pastores is characterised by “gentle rising and falling contrapuntal lines [that] may remind one of the flowing Tudor choral style, a new feature in [his] post-1949 organ works…It seems that he absorbed the Tudor vocal idiom through osmosis into his instrumental style as a result of writing for voices so much.”
Huw Williams can be heard on YouTube playing Willan’s Quem Pastores on the organ of St Pauls Cathedral, London.